After a long 118-day strike, SAG-AFTRA has officially struck a tentative agreement with studios on a new three-year contract, signaling the end of the 2023 actors strike.
The SAG-AFTRA TV/Theatrical Committee unanimously accepted the agreement on Wednesday, according to SAG-AFTRA. The strike will finish on Thursday at 12:01 a.m. The agreement will be presented to the union’s national board for approval on Friday.
After roughly two weeks of fresh negotiations, the performers union revealed the tentative deal on Wednesday. The news came only hours before the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers set a deadline of 5 p.m. for the union to respond to whether or not they had reached an agreement.
The union is so far providing some details of the agreement, more of which will likely emerge in the next few days prior to the union’s ratification vote. In a message to members on Wednesday night, the union said the pact is valued at over $1 billion and includes pay increases higher than what other unions received this year, a “streaming participation bonus” and regulations on AI. The tentative deal also includes higher caps on health and pension funds, compensation bumps for background performers and “critical contract provisions protecting diverse communities.” If the deal is ratified, the contract could soon go into effect, and if not, members would essentially send their labor negotiators back to the bargaining table with the AMPTP.
In a statement on Wednesday night, the AMPTP said, “Today’s tentative agreement represents a new paradigm. It gives SAG-AFTRA the biggest contract-on-contract gains in the history of the union, including the largest increase in minimum wages in the last forty years; a brand new residual for streaming programs; extensive consent and compensation protections in the use of artificial intelligence; and sizable contract increases on items across the board. The AMPTP is pleased to have reached a tentative agreement and looks forward to the industry resuming the work of telling great stories.”
When negotiations restarted on Oct. 2 for the first time since SAG-AFTRA called its work stoppage in July, hopes were high in the industry that Hollywood’s largest union could come to terms with major companies quickly. Just like they had in the final days of the writers’ negotiations, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav, Disney CEO Bob Iger, and NBCUniversal Studio Group chairman and chief content officer Donna Langley attended the talks at the union’s national headquarters in Los Angeles. But the studio ended up walking out on Oct. 11 over SAG-AFTRA’s proposal to charge a fee per every streaming subscriber on major platforms in a move that the union’s chief negotiator called “mystifying” (Sarandos called the ask “a bridge too far“).
The sides reconvened Oct. 24 after a nearly two-week break. This time, the studios came in with a more generous offer to increase actors’ wage floors and a slightly modified version of a success-based streaming bonus they had previously offered the WGA.
The two sides exchanged proposals for much of the week in a tense situation that had the industry on edge. Even as a deal came into sight, progress was slow, especially when it came to putting the contract’s inaugural guardrails on artificial intelligence: The union considers the rapidly advancing technology an absolutely existential issue for members and sought to close any potential loopholes that could lead to future issues. On Saturday the studios presented what the union characterized as the companies’ “last, best and final,” overarching offer (still, the two sides kept swapping offers after).
When the union’s previous contract expired in mid-July and SAG-AFTRA went out on strike, many outstanding issues were left on the table. Setting terms for the use of AI was a major sticking point between union and studio negotiators, as was a proposal to provide casts with additional streaming compensation. Union negotiators sought to institute an unusually large minimum rate increase in the first year of the contract, a host of ground rules for self-taped virtual auditions and major increases to health and pension contributions “caps” that have not been changed since the 1980s. Meanwhile, as the entertainment business continues to experience a period of contraction, major companies looked to preserve some measure of flexibility and cost control.
SAG-AFTRA’s strike, coming as it did amid an ongoing writers strike in July, gave the union an unusual amount of leverage early on in its talks with the AMPTP. Almost immediately, most remaining unionized U.S. productions that were operating without writers shut down, including Deadpool 3 and Venom 3. An as the months of the work stoppage stretched on, a strategist at the Milken Institute has estimated that the strikes have cost the California economy alone at least $6 billion.
But pressure started to build as the strike neared and surpassed its 100-day mark. A-list actors began talking to both their union and the studios in an attempt to improve progress in the negotiations. A number of actors also started drafting a letter expressing concerns about the union’s leadership but held back from publishing it, fearful of the missive’s potential impact on negotiations. Then, on Oct. 26, a separate letter was released signed by apparently thousands of actors, exhorting negotiators, “We have not come all this way to cave now.”
The amount of time that the union spent on strike in 2023 will certainly raise expectations for the deal they reached with studios. In the union’s upcoming ratification vote, the date of which has not yet been announced, members will decide whether the pact is acceptable to them.